Cutting carbon pollution means increasing jobs, economic growth in Illinois
There are plenty of reasons to push for action on climate change: addressing the root cause of increasingly costly violent weather that has long been predicted by scientists, the moral responsibility to protect our kids and grand-children, the immense health benefits that come with addressing dangerous air pollution, the energy security benefits from cutting our dangerous reliance on fossil fuels; but for many readers, it’s the jobs and economic benefits that should be the kicker.
Despite protestations from naysayers who like things just the way they are, the reality is that cutting carbon is good for Illinois’ economy.
Look at what is happening with clean energy jobs in our state … it’s one of the few areas with significant job growth in the economy and we are just starting to scratch the surface.
A report released last year by Chicago-based Clean Energy Trust, Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) and others showed that as of this year, 100,000 Illinoisans wake up each day and go to work at jobs in the clean energy economy. That’s as many people as work in the real estate and accounting sectors – combined.
Clean energy jobs in Illinois are growing at a 9 percent annual growth rate, well ahead of the rest of the economy. The Brookings Institution reports that jobs in the Illinois clean economy pay a mean wage of about $41,300 – more than $1,300 per year higher than the state average.
In June, the Obama administration announced its new Clean Power Plan, a historic effort to slash the carbon emissions fueling climate change. The proposed plan gives states the flexibility to meet carbon pollution reduction targets in the way that makes sense for their individual statewide generating fleet. In Illinois, where we have a diverse energy sector, the goals are pretty easy to reach by simply doubling down on the energy efficiency programs and cutting-edge renewable energy sources that are already making a positive mark on the state economy.
Despite the misguided howls from critics, that doesn’t mean jacking up energy costs or forcing Americans to undergo dramatic lifestyle changes. It is about squeezing waste out of the electrical system so we get the same hot showers and cold beer using less energy. That starts with making our buildings consume less energy with tools like better insulation, improved lighting, smarter building controls and more efficient HVAC. Energy savings are waiting to be unlocked, with jobs doing that work staying in the community.
And that adds up: the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates strong implementation of the Clean Power Plan with a heavy emphasis on energy efficiency will save Illinois commercial and industrial businesses $448 million by 2020. This is money that can be reinvested in the Illinois economy, stimulating additional economic and job growth. NRDC’s analysis shows that more than 7,200 direct jobs in energy efficiency alone could be created in Illinois through the Clean Power Plan (with more to come from increased generation of energy in-state from the new wind and solar technologies already making a positive impact on the state’s landscape). Illinois’ energy efficiency programs are already offsetting electricity demand comparable to usage in 100,000 homes. And they save consumers $2-3 in energy cost for every dollar spent on energy efficiency.
Studies show that Illinois can achieve at least 30 percent greater savings than is being achieved. Illinois’ Clean Power Plan response will likely create more resources to make this even easier across the state. From the iconic skyscrapers of downtown Chicago to apartment buildings in Champaign-Urbana to small businesses and industrial facilities here in Metro East, efficiency programs can make our buildings far more valuable, profitable, comfortable and healthy. Everyone wins.
But there is more. Consider the hits to our economy that will be saved by avoiding the devastation of extreme weather linked to climate change and carbon pollution. Illinois taxpayers were on the hook for more than $1,300 each to clean up after climate-related disasters in 2012. Look at the Mississippi. Is it sustainable to alternate between historic flood stages that require levees be blown up and water levels so low that the river bottom must be dynamited just to allow barges to slip past? Those swings take a massive toll on our economy and the livability of our region. We cannot afford to avoid climate action now; the costs are simply too high once the worst impacts are baked into the cake. I think most Americans recognize the problem and are ready for action.
Polls show strong support from both individuals and businesses for cutting carbon pollution. A recent survey conducted by the American Council on Renewable Energy found that two out of three business leaders in the Midwest “support federal standards that would significantly reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.”
By setting limits on carbon pollution from power plants, the Clean Power Plan will send a clear market signal to the private sector in Illinois to continue investing in the vital expansion of locally owned, high-growth, renewable energy companies and utilities. That brings jobs and other economic benefits; not to mention cleaner air — all things we desperately want and need for this state.
Corbett Lunsford serves as executive director of the Illinois Association of Energy Raters & Home Performance Professionals and is managing director of Chicago-based Green Dream Group.